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I BECOME A SNAKE-CHARMING DERVISH   261
and losing my "grip" on things with creeping death so dose to my face; I let the snake fall gently to the ground. Immediately, my consciousness reverted to normal and was focused once more on the familiar physical world around me. This happened only once, but it was unforgettable.
Had I sensed the snake's own state of consciousness? Did it function in two worlds at the same time? And was one of them a nether world of horrors? Who can say?
On a jungle expedition in the south of India I had unexpectedly come upon a weird sight, nothing less than a meeting of cobras. A number of the beasts were gathered round in a circle, their bodies raised majestically into the air. What were these hooded heads discussing, I wondered; what mysterious secrets were they communicating to one another? But I must confess that I fled from the sight. One cobra was unpleasant enough in those days—a crowd was more than human feelings could endure.
Among the carved and painted memorials of ancient Egypt the serpent meets the eye at every step. Upon the architrave of the giant entrance pylon to the Temple of Amen-Ra at Karnak there rises two magnificent stone cobras, poised pillars of gracefulness. Not far away the little Temple of Osiris is profusely sculptured with serried ranks of serpents. On the other side of the river, the walls of almost every royal tomb in the Valley of the Dead, where time-shrivelled mummies lie deep in the Theban hills, bear painted witness to the important place which the snake occupied in early Egyptian religion and thought. Many a representation of the public ceremonials of the temples throughout Egypt demonstrates precisely the same thing. And, finally, the shrines where the secret rites of the Mysteries were performed do not fail to add their mute testimony. Upon the summit of every obelisk and the porticoes of most temples the serpent is sculptured. Out of the perfect disk that was emblematical of the much-beloved and ever-worshipped sun, almost always a pair of serpents spread out their hooded heads.
These things had a significant connection with the psychic world and out of this connection—with its possibilities of degenerating into sorcery in evil hands—the evU reputation of the snake symbol developed, as apart from the feared physical qualities of snakes.
The Egyptians recognized this possibility and pictured an